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One Direction's Five Lessons for Building Customer Loyalty

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On a sticky July evening, the multimillion-selling vocal group One Direction (AKA 1D) made a stop at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ, on its international "Take Me Home" tour.

The capacity crowd of 19,000+ fans, composed primarily of frenzied 9-16-year-old Jersey girls, welcomed the young UK stars with screams and open arms.

(Full disclosure: my 11-year-old daughter is a rabid "Directioner," and I accompanied her to 1D's Izod Center show.)

For those unfamiliar with the worldwide pop cultural impact of 1D, here's a quick summary:

  • The group's five members were originally contestants on the British version of "The X Factor" in 2010. They were signed to Simon Cowell's Syco Records (marketed and distributed worldwide by Columbia Records).
  • Their first album, "Up All Night," was released in 2012, and their second album, "Take Me Home," came out in 2013. The group has sold 19 million singles and 10 million albums around the world.
  • Tickets for their tours have sold out within minutes.

The passionate emotional enthusiasm (and sizable financial expenditures) that 1D inspires among its massive global fan base is not a fluke: It's the result of a meticulously nurtured loyalty-building strategy that was on full display at the Izod Center.


Companies that wish to develop positive connections with their own customers would be wise to learn from 1D's examples, which were carefully planned by their managers and flawlessly choreographed by the producers of their "Take Me Home" tour.

1. Deliver outstanding quality

I expected 1D to put on an adequate show that pleased its young fans. But what I saw at the Izod Center was a powerful spectacle that truly wowed the Directioners.

Laser light effects. Explosions. Smoke. Confetti and streamers. Dazzling graphics and colorful, fast-paced videos on a wide, two-story screen behind 1D and the band. All were coordinated and displayed tastefully and impressively.

The Takeaway:

Every element of 1D's concert was calculated to dazzle its young fans/customers, and they all worked. Companies should aim to achieve such excellence in every aspect of their customer interactions by...

  • Creating and delivering a first-rate product or service
  • Providing courteous customer care
  • Nurturing valuable dialogues and helpful social media interactions
  • Crafting user-friendly multimedia sales and marketing collateral

2. Understand your customers' NGDs

The overriding NGD (need/goal/desire) for the majority of the Izod Center audience was to get closer than they had ever been before to their favorite 1D member (or, in the words of my daughter, to "breathe the same air as 1D").

1D served up the goods. Each member was featured, spotlighted, and called out throughout the show, giving their respective admirers plenty to shriek about.

And in what was a smart move, the guys were attired in hip yet informal outfits: They didn't wear the glittery suits or elaborate costumes that boy bands of yore (e.g., Backstreet Boys, N' Sync, New Kids On The Block) sported when performing. This choice made the group's members more accessible (and attainable) to the shrieking tweens/teens.

The Takeaway:

One Direction's management and concert producers didn't create a concert experience that they thought would reflect their target consumers' NGDs; they created a concert experience that they knew would reflect their target consumers' NGDs.

Whether it was by research, observation, experience, or a combination of the three, the teams behind 1D's show succeeded because they had an accurate appreciation of what Directioners wished to derive from the group's live presentation.

Companies should take this same approach when researching their own customers' specific NGDs. Rather than assuming or guessing, companies should instead aim to learn exactly what the NGDs are and then reflect those in the product/service.

3. Create real connections with your customers

One Direction bonded with Izod Center fans in three noteworthy ways.

First, midway through the concert, the guys took a break from the music and invited the audience to send them tweets with questions about their tour. The fans' queries ("What's your favorite American food/TV show/etc.?") were posted on two massive video screens on either side of the main stage at the front of the arena.

After answering each tweeted question, the group then gave a shout-out to—and had a spotlight shined on—the section of the arena from which the question originated, sending the fans who were seated in that section into joyous hysterics.

Second, in sing-alongs and the call/response parts of songs that it performed throughout the night, 1D let the Jersey crowd know that they were the loudest and most enthusiastic audience on the tour. That incredible news made the arena's decibel level explode into the ear-bleed zone.

(I told my daughter that 1D probably says the same thing to the audiences at each of itsconcerts, but she firmly insisted that 1D would never do that...)

Third, at numerous times throughout the evening, 1D members thanked the Directioners for coming to the show, and let them know that the group would never have attained its current level of success—or had a chance to perform in New Jersey—if the fans hadn't been so supportive of their music and careers.

The Takeaway:

In each of the above examples, One Direction used the concert to establish powerful, memorable, and direct relationships with fans/customers. 1D also expressed tremendous gratitude to fans for the group's achievements.

Using social media channels, customer service channels (phone, chat, email), and email marketing efforts, companies should seek to creatively connect and interact with their own customers, as well as devise sincere ways to express their thanks for customers' support (i.e., purchases). Implemented correctly and genuinely, a company's multi-dimensional relationship-building efforts can yield significant customer loyalty, improved marketplace image, and future sales.

4. Exceed your customers' expectations, then exceed them again

If One Direction had put on an energetic performance of fans' favorite songs, interacted with the audience, and enhanced the show with dynamic videos and explosive effects, the Directioners would have gone home very satisfied.

1D did that—and did so one better.

Just before the show's halfway mark, the group ascended stairs that led to a high platform above the floor of their stage. Each member attached a waist cable to his microphone stand. The elevated platform, which was tethered to an elaborate track apparatus that was bolted into the ceiling, began to slowly move from the front of the arena to the back—where it lowered the guys onto a second stage.

As the platform journeyed across the length of the Izod Center, the screams from the rear of the arena increased in volume. Fans in the faraway sections who were able to make out their favorite 1D members only via binoculars or on the giant video screens, were now closer to them than they could ever have imagined—or their seat locations suggested—they'd be.

Without doubt, that significant phone memory within the Izod Center was filled to capacity with photos and videos of this unexpected crowd-thrilling surprise.

The Takeaway:

To survive in the marketplace and keep up with your competitors, deliver what your customers expect. But to thrive in the marketplace and dominate your competitors, deliver more than what your customers expect.

5. Surprise and innovate

Having heard 1D's albums played in their entirety by my daughter hundreds of times over the past year, I knew all of the songs that the group sang at the show. One song, however, was unfamiliar.

Toward the end of the concert, One Direction performed a guitar-heavy, alternative rock-sounding song called "Teenage Dirtbag." I figured that I might have missed it when my daughter was listening to her albums, or maybe it had been released as a overseas single and hadn't been included on 1D's American releases. I asked my daughter when 1D had put the song out, and she didn't know. In fact, she had never 1D sing it before.

That "Teenage Dirtbag" was new to my daughter—and all of the Directioners at the Izod Center—didn't seem to matter: By the end of the second chorus, everyone was singing along. Elaborate graphics on the Izod Center video screens featuring the song's lyrics and 1D as comic book action heroes pretty much made the song theirs.

It turns out that "Teenage Dirtbag" was an alt-rock hit in 2000 by the band Wheatus. According to Billboard magazine, "Teenage Dirtbag" offered "keen melody, inventive production, and cool lyric about those who have felt like underlings during high school." Billboard went on to say that it "stands strongly on its own as an emphatic anthem and a song many teens will be proud to push hard from their car speakers."

The Takeaway:

1D's decision to create a version of "Teenage Dirtbag" was risky, unexpected, and absolutely brilliant. Whether it was a tease of its new album's sound, or a messaging tie-in with its anti-bullying partnership with Office Depot, or just something cool to perform live, "Teenage Dirtbag" was executed flawlessly—and the group's fans/customers loved it.

Companies should strategically embrace similar boldness and innovation to surprise their customers and the marketplace. It's easy to coast when a successful formula is discovered. It takes guts and a long-term perspective to intelligently expand on that formula in a way that will please current customers and attract prospects.

* * *

1D's success is no accident. It's the well-planned result of the band's charisma and talent combined with excellent songwriting/production, spectacular marketing, and—perhaps most important—impeccable customer service.


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Rafe Gomez is a principal at VC Inc. Marketing, a provider of strategic sales support and SEO lead generation content marketing services. His work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Forbes, Yahoo Small Business Advisor, American Express OPEN Forum, Adweek, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Direct Marketing News.

Twitter: @vcincmarketing

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Comments

  • by Seshu Thu Aug 8, 2013 via web

    Excellent article as it clearly gives an example followed by theory- exceeding customer expectations which I find is a tough sell to many of my restaurant clients. At the end of the day given many choices a customer has, service/product providers have to go beyond what is expected and this is not an easy task as customers who get used to superior service will want more and more. Another aspect to this is the cost of these exceptional services - after a certain point it would not be economically feasible to deliver exceptional services.
    Seshu
    mKonnekt.com

  • by Courtney Bosch Thu Aug 8, 2013 via web

    It really is amazing what brands can learn from rock stars and how they keep their fans wanting more!

    And this line made me giggle:

    (I told my daughter that 1D probably says the same thing to the audiences at each of its concerts, but she firmly insisted that 1D would never do that...)

    Thanks for a great read!

  • by Gracious Store Thu Aug 8, 2013 via web

    Great post! It is very profitable for brands to nurture valuable dialogues and helpful social media interactions, this will help to establish mutual friendship and trust between brands and prospects


  • by Rafe Gomez Fri Aug 9, 2013 via web

    Seshu -

    Glad you liked the article. In terms of your restaurant clients seeking to exceed customer expectations, the effort doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, it could be quite reasonable, but the benefits would be highly valuable.

    Some ideas:

    - offering mini tastings of second entrees (it only needs to be a forkful) to customers who order full dinners on particular nights
    - doing a charity raffle, with the prize being a private kitchen tour and cooking lesson (this would also generate free media coverage for the restaurant)
    - offering a free dessert liqueur (served in a mini-apertif glass) to customers who order full dinners on particular nights

    Might any of these be do-able/economical?

  • by Amber Mon Aug 12, 2013 via web

    I am not a fan of 1D but based on your article they do a good job with their fans. They know what they want and try to give it to the, Businesses could indeed a learn a thing or two on how to keep your customers loyal.

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